Marathon Runners Riku and Rohini, are a couple who just can’t stop thinking about running.
“If you can’t stop thinking about it, don’t stop working for it.”
I read this quote on some blog once and the more I think about it, the more relevant it becomes to me. We (Riku and Rohini) are a couple that just can’t stop thinking about running. Running has taken over many aspects of our lives – our weekends, travel, vacations, shopping lists, going out, food – everything has “running” written all over it. When we started out, neither of us imagined that running will play such a big part in our daily lives. When a family runs together that is how much running takes over your daily life. We become “runners” first.
I could never have imagined an “amateur runner” with no professional aspirations defining themselves as a “runner”. We never hear about anyone defining themselves as “I am a footballer” – if you do, you might think they play professionally, at least at club level. But you’ll be surprised to know that “I am a runner” is a common self-description among runners as they think of running as a big part of their identity.
Simple – the effect and changes that running brings about are immense. To be able to run well, run injury-free and enjoy the sport you will need to make big, big lifestyle changes.
There’s not a day that will go by where you won’t think about running and yourself as a runner – that’s the effect it has. Give running enough time, and you will see that it will slowly change your diet, your sleeping habits, your attitude towards work and life, and of course, it changes your body.
Come to think of it, “Running is like a very well-designed life-coach app – it takes over your life gradually and makes it better”.
In fact, we often joke that taking up running was exactly like installing an app. This app, once installed in our lives, starts asking for a lot of permissions. It wants to change the very basic aspects of who we are – such as when we sleep, what we eat, what we are supposed to find rewarding, what takes up maximum space in our living room, what we should do on weekends, there is just no end it.
Fighting with the Running “App”.
Of course, just like we might with any nosy app, we can deny some of the permissions. For example:
“Hey, Running App, no I am not going to modify my diet for you. I am not going to have a protein shake or start having almonds and bananas every day…”
We can insist:
“No, ice cream is one thing I am not going to give up on.”
“Beetroot is my sworn enemy in life, no never!”
“I can never sleep before 11 PM, I am a night owl!”
And so on…
But then the app starts acting cranky. It refuses to perform well. It nags you with popup messages until you give it the permission to modify the setting. You might repeatedly tell the app that I have installed you to make me fit without having to make all these extra changes, but the “app” eventually wins – you will end up giving all the permissions!
“I have lost this battle, but I will win the war” – Anna Kournikova
That’s exactly how I felt when I gave in to everything the running app wanted from me but, I’m not complaining. We love running and everything that it has brought for us as a couple.
Looking back now, it wasn’t easy to get started or even persevere once started. I lead an active life growing up – martial arts, cricket, basketball, running, a lot of fun. Going out to play was not something I had to plan, it just happened, it was an indulgence. In Rohini’s case, it was much the same, she was more the studious one, with a bit of yoga and cricket till her college years.
But, as it happens with most working professionals, you lose touch with that part of your life. You start making compromises by giving up on your “workouts” (now called “workouts” and not “playtime”!), and instead indulge in a lot of “fun” (read, eating!). All that “fun” coupled with a lifetime’s worth of sitting down – at your desk, on the couch, in the car – is a perfect recipe for an unhealthy body and mind.
As a result of all this neglect, your body starts to change slowly. Many accept this and let it be a part of their new self-image – a chubby happy person, postponing all thoughts of health to a later date. But for some of us, who remain at least partly health-conscious, these changes bug us – we feel guilty, we try diets, we occasionally take a break from our sitting to walk around a park or two.
We did the same too. I tried squeezing in runs every week or so but then I indulged in food even more for the extra work done. When play becomes work, then work needs more rewards – it is a bad cycle to be in. I tried gyms, sports, sports apps, forcing myself to do cardio, but there seemed to be no way out – the more you try to get results, the more frustrating it is to not have any, and the easier it is to stop. The real issue, as we realized later, is that most of our activities have a short-term focus – we want results, and fast. As long as we have that myopic view of why we are being active, it is just not sustainable.
These sporadic attempts went on… until one February, a cousin of ours convinced us to sign up for a TCS 10k event. I was not very sold on the idea of paying money to run, but eventually, we all signed up and started “training” for the event, if we can call it that. Suddenly things were different – there was something to target, there was progress to be measured, it was as if the meaning of the workouts had changed – instead of a short-term thing of working out and expecting daily or weekly results – now all the focus on results had been pushed 3-4 months down the line. It is a lot easier to work out regularly when you are not expecting results every week, and facing the disappointments of not seeing those results.
Weekly runs were a part of life now, but it was not yet enjoyable – but, it was doable and that was good enough. After TCS, came longer runs and longer races – running was tough, but the weighing balance was cooperating, fitness levels were increasing. Good enough. Right?
No! The app had been installed. It was starting to ask for permissions!
Jayanagar Jaguars calling.
In one of the longer races, as I struggled through the latter part of it, I noticed a girl visibly less fit than me, running with a lot more ease and comfort. She was running with a group of other runners; all clad in the trademark white tees of the Jayanagar Jaguars. I knew of the JJs, but I had just recently convinced myself that it is ok to pay money to run races! I had no intention of spending money on training runs as well, but something clicked seeing them run. They seemed to be enjoying it, running was not a workout for them – it seemed like the “playtime” of old. Maybe running in a group is the key… I managed to convince Rohini and we decided to give it a try for a season and see. Little did we know that we had just given the Running App a lot more control over our lives! Now, it had another avenue to convince us to do things – on top of guilt and motivation, now there was peer pressure added, for the app to work its magic on us!
Next season we were both enrolled, soon built up a new set of friends, or rather “Run Buddies”, and every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday we had our scheduled “playtime” when we get to go out enjoy, run a bit, of course, and come back feeling really good about ourselves. The JJs are a very eclectic group of runners and we get runners of all levels of fitness coming together, from elites to people just realizing the importance of getting active. It is very rare to find this kind of a group with varying experiences and goals, coming together and supporting each other. Constant fitness and diet chit-chat was a weekly ritual now and as we imbibed the wisdom of veteran runners and people who have achieved major transformations, we all become fitter, faster, better. With no extra effort, or at least, it felt that way! The running app soon had all the permissions it needed, we had stopped fighting with it, and it is functioning smoothly now. Occasionally, there are slip-ups, but we have the support system of fellow runners to get us back on track. It is a great new cycle to be in, where you are always pushed to give your best, and when you don’t, you are gently coaxed back into it.
What we have learned over the last few years is that yes, fitness is a choice, but if you can get out of the “workout” mentality of having to force yourself to do it, that is the first crucial step. You have to figure out a way to enjoy workouts. Running is a social activity which feels like a part of human nature, and there is something about running together that changes you if you let it. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead, install the running app, give it the permissions it needs, and go out to play more!
ABOUT THE GUEST COLUMNISTS
Riku and Rohini, a couple who trains with Jayanagar Jaguars in Bengaluru. Riku works at an EdTech firm and Rohini is a PhD researcher working on Cancer.